Tents I have known and, sometimes, loved

Wild camping with the Soulo

Hopefully, my last post got you thinking about the tents you’ve known and loved – or hated – over the years. It certainly did that to me. At least, the ones I can remember. So here goes…

Try reading the following to the tune of the Twelve Days of Christmas:

  • A Marechal two-person 17lb heavyweight – my first tent;
  • Numerous dome tents from the cheaper outlets, some so damaged they were left at the festivals where they stood;
  • A Wynnster four-berth family tent, made memorable by my youngest throwing up in it, missing her mother’s face by millimetres;
  • Four Vango tents of various sizes and styles including the iconic Banshee and Blade – all brilliant for those on a small budget;
  • Three Hillebergs – Nallo, Akto and Soulo (pictured above) – all superior design and quality and crazy expensive unless you’re in a position not to care about budget;
  • Numerous homemade tarps, most never used;
  • Several shop bought tarps including Go-Lite and DD;
  • A Wild Country Zephyros 1 – a very popular backpacker’s tent but too narrow for me;
  • A Luxe Hex Peak – a simple, roomy tepee tent with half-mesh inner;
  • A Trekkertent Stealth 1 with both a solid and (my next purchase) full mesh inner for midge-free summer evenings.

(Yes, I know the tune doesn’t quite work.)

From that collection, spread over many years, only four remain: the ancient Hilleberg Nallo 3GT, the Hilleberg Soulo, the Luxe Hex Peak and, my latest, the Trekkertent Stealth 1.

And my reasons for keeping these?

The Hillebergs speak for themselves. They are not cheap, and even though we all know more money does not always equal more tent, in this case it does. There’s a reason why Artic expeditions use Hillebergs, and at a recent Backpackers’ Club meet, six out of nine tents were Aktos.

Hillebergs are beautifully made, well researched with rugged Kerlon fabrics and will protect you in the foulest and coldest conditions. When I first used an Akto, my lack of experience led me to feel it was too small for my needs. Now, it would probably seem like a palace!

The only problem I’ve found, as many others have too, is Hilleberg’s overall packed weight. This probably doesn’t apply to their more recent Enan solo tent, at a packed weight of 1.1 kilos.

When I use the outer of the Soulo in the summer as a single skin, with poles, pegs and footprint, it’s still not a light option, at 1.8 kilos. Adding the inner for winter use brings it to 2.4 kilos. For this reason, I carry the Soulo only when it’s a short walk in and overnight pitch or, when I’m prepared to carry the extra weight, above the snowline.

The trusty Nallo was once the go-to shelter for the cycle tourer and backpacker. We bought the bigger 3GT (that’s a three-person version with a porch) back in 2000. Originally for tandem touring, we now use it mainly for car camping or backpacking, where we can split the weight to about 1.7 kilos each.

Even at a packed weight of 3.4 kilos, it’s a manageable and palatial tunnel shelter, which goes up in a few minutes and has withstood three-day gales and biblical rain storms.

In 2014, I bought the Luxe Hex Peak, a very simple tepee, six-sided design that uses a walking pole for the centre support. I can see why this style is very popular in Scandinavia. Unfortunately, I don’t have the strength to carry the obligatory wood burner!

The Luxe Hex Peak in high wind

The Luxe Hex Peak in high wind

A simple, but certainly not a new concept, the Hex also goes up in a few minutes, is roomy and, with the exception of gale force winds, will withstand most UK weather.

The fly can be pitched flush to the ground in foul weather, or high off the ground using a walking pole extender, in warmer conditions. The inner, which is half mesh, can be set up on its own for summer use. But the mesh can make this tent a little too draughty in winter and, because of this, I would class it as a thee-season option.

As I’m always looking to cover greater distances, I was keen to reduce the weight of the big three – tent, rucksack and sleeping bag. Rucksack at 800g and down sleeping bag at 900g are acceptable for the moment, so that only leaves the tent. (I’ll be writing about rucksacks and sleep systems in future posts.)

In January, after much research, I bought a Trekkertent Stealth 1. I’d read reviews by other bloggers (Section Hiker and Overthehills) whose comprehensive descriptions persuaded me to plump for it. It’s also good to support one of a few UK tent makers.

My version of the Stealth weighs 780g, which now includes eight titanium nail pegs and a short folding pole for the rear, as I use both my trekking poles to support the front. As for other uses, it can be a winged tarp, pitched low to cover a bivvy bag. The solid inner can be used on its own in the summer, and the mesh inner combined with a poncho tarp for a midge-free night under the stars.

Like many backpackers, trekkers and wild campers, I’ve spent the last few years looking for the perfect shelter. But what I’ve come to realise it that it’s a never-ending quest. Your perfect tent won’t necessarily be mine – and, in the end, one will never be enough. But isn’t that part of the journey?

When the correct number of tents is N+1

There's always room for one more tent

Remember your first tent? Of course, you do. Mine was a two-person Marechal ridge set up bought for me by my parents. Inner pitch first, hanging from interlocking poles forming the frame, with the outer fly pulled over the top and the poles sticking out through eyelets in the material.

I tried to find a photo but realised I probably didn’t even own a camera at the time. As the Marechal is long defunct, the nearest thing I came across online was the renowned Vango Force 10.

The Vango Force Ten Mk5

The Vango Force Ten Mk5

In hindsight, the Marechal was obviously bought to play with in the garden. In fact, my parents had planted the seed for the backpacking I do now. It had steel section poles, an orange waxed-canvas outer – which had to be reproofed every couple of months and took three days to dry – and a cream cotton inner with no vents. It did have a PVC bathtub groundsheet, which I now realise was quite advanced for the time. The whole bundle weighed a massive 17lb – 3lb heavier than my current total backpacking base weight. How far we have come…

Knowing what I know now – and even saying to myself, ‘This is the one. No need to look any further; I’ll use this for the rest of my days. Why would I possibly need anything else?’ – I accept that the shelters I own today won’t be the last.

I’m just as gullible and lacking in willpower as the next person. There is, and always will be, something out there that’s better, more technical, lighter, stronger, more innovative, even cheaper, superior quality – you get the picture.

In recent years I’ve collected a range of tents and shelters. (Yes, collected – we backpackers seem to do that, like stamps or model cars.) And all have been justified with perfectly plausible explanations: ‘I need that one for base camping, that one for wild camping, and that one for Thursdays.’

As I said, you get the picture. It’s a version of Rule 12 from Velominati’s cycling book The Rules: ‘The correct number of bikes to own is N+1, where N is the number bikes you already own.’ Just substitute tent for bike.

And if I could have just one? I genuinely don’t know. I’ll have a think about it and let you know if I come to any conclusion. In the meantime, what would you choose?

A cook system – and a spirited idea for a stove

A collection of various stoves and burners from the journey

For most of us when we’re camping, boiling speed isn’t that important – we just sit patiently and take in the view, which is exactly what we should be doing. However, it’s sometimes desirable to boil water quickly – say, for a hot drink or rehydrated meal when temperatures are close to freezing, or when you need to be on the move.

Overnight wild camping, in the peace and silence of dusk, I usually just rehydrate food in foil bags using a cosy box, so only need something to boil water in and drink from. For longer backpacking trips, arriving earlier at the pitch in daylight, I like to cook, so my pot may be slightly bigger, perhaps one with a heat exchanger, and my burner more controllable for simmering. This is when I take a slightly heavier cook system, and it’s usually gas.

Until recently, I switched indecisively between alcohol burners and ultralight canister gas stoves, depending on weather, temperature and the length of the adventure. I was never a big fan of alcohol stoves until I bought the iconic Trangia 27 back in the day. Even when I opened the packaging I thought it was rather large and cumbersome. Nevertheless, I still have my faithful Trangia. However, I use it only for car camping now, when I cook ‘proper’ meals. It’s completely faff-free and bombproof. As with their tents, those Swedes know a thing or two.

Using gas for backpacking trips, I have often felt – as they say in cycling parlance – ‘over geared’. I’ve seen and met people using alcohol stoves of every style and size and thought ‘wow, that’s so simple’.

This set me on a quest, and after some years, I now have a collection. (There’s that word again!) To date, it consists of the original Trangia and burner and several other Trangia-types, some made of tin, some made of copper, some of brass, stainless steel and even one from Japan made of uber-expensive titanium. Then there’s the pop can and cat-food tin stoves, many I’ve made myself, some I’ve bought. And some I’ve nearly burnt the house down with. (We don’t talk about those!)

Then, in a ‘eureka’ moment, on a recent trip, I discovered the perfect burner, made by Speedster. It’s basically a shallow tin filled with compacted, absorbent fibre wadding covered with a piece of fine wire mesh. Simplicity itself and very, very efficient. It’s extremely easy to fill and, provided the lid is screwed on tightly, it’s leak proof and can be left with fuel in. You can also put it in your pocket to keep the fuel warm in winter so you don’t struggle to light it.

Speedster Number 2 and simmer ring

Speedster Number 2 and simmer ring

I finally settled on the Speedster Number 2. In fact, I have two, and each burns for 20 to 25 minutes from full. Using a craft cutting compass, I made a simmer ring for one of them, which saves fuel if you need to reheat a drink that’s been left in your pot. I also take a spare 60ml bottle of fuel for peace of mind. Even though meths burns slightly hotter, I’ve been using bio-ethanol fuel, which is non-toxic (methanol-free), smokeless, longer burning and, more importantly, environmentally friendly if spilled.

So then I thought, what should I use as a pot stand? And for a windshield? And how do I protect the flame from what is, essentially, a very large candle wick? With gas, I now use a Crux folding stove with a 100ml cartridge and, sometimes, an aluminium folding windshield. I noticed four of the panels fitted exactly around my MytiMug cook pot. A ‘light bulb’ moment occurred… and after a bit of careful measuring, re-engineering and the use of a paper punch, this was the result.

The completed windshield/stand for the Alpkit MytiMug

The windshield/stand for the Alpkit MytiMug

Windshield open showing the burner

Windshield open showing the burner

The pot slides neatly inside the four panels of the windshield, held at the top by its lip, carefully measured so it hangs exactly one inch over the Number 2 Speedster – its recommended ‘sweet spot’ distance from the base of the pot*. Because the pot is completely enclosed by the stand and using a top-burning stove, the heat is maximised even though there’s some heat loss venting at the four corners. Great for warming your hands on a cold morning!

I added the holes around the base to provide air for the burner, but limited it to three on the back so as not to snuff it out when positioned into the wind. The windshield/pot stand folds away neatly into a bubble wrap bag with its foil ground protector. A Jiffy bag lined with bubble wrap protects the windshield as well as items in my pack. So this is my ‘go to’ cook set… for now.

Findings

Using bio-ethanol, in zero wind (indoors), 300ml of liquid rolls to a boil in 3 mins 45 secs. In the field, it’s anywhere from 4 to 7 minutes – still amazing for such a simple burner. If using meths (UK) or pure denatured alcohol, boil times would be slightly less.

Items and weights

  • Pot: Alpkit 650 MytiMug
  • Burner: Speedster Number 2 (available on eBay)
  • Original windshield: Cotswold Outdoor
  • Fuel: Geco Industries Fuel 4, Bio-ethanol Spirit Fuel
A simple cook system: 650ml MytiMug with HotLips, Speedster burners, fuel, lighter and bubble wrap cosy

A simple cook system: 650ml MytiMug with HotLips, Speedster burners, fuel, lighter and bubble wrap cosy

Cook system

  • Cook pot with lid containing two full burners, 60ml fuel in plastic bottle, lighter, HotLips, bubble wrap pot cosy inside a mesh bag – 275g
  • Pot stand/windshield in bag – 75g

*Recommended ‘sweet spot’ height from burner to base of pot confirmed by Gary at Speedster.

The cook system ready to go, with folded stand in Jiffy bag

The cook system ready to go, with folded stand in a Jiffy bag

Update

The Caldera cone pot stand/windshield is the obvious choice for these burners and I’ll be making one soon to fit in the pot from one of the many templates on the internet. This should be more efficient, as all the heat is directed to the pot base.